Minnesota West students give back to the community

Jeff Linder thought something strange was going on.

Three of his Minnesota West football players were in his office, asking to borrow jerseys — months before football season begins.

“They all three came to me one day and asked if they could borrow a jersey,” the Minnesota West head football coach said. “I looked at them, and asked, ‘Why?’ I had no clue what they were getting at here, and it’s something you just don’t give out. They said, ‘We would like to clean up your community for you and show that the program is behind the community.’ I’ll be honest with you, I about fell over. You don’t just have kids — kids that have no ties to the community other than the college — want to do something to help the community. I’m sure it was to let the community know that the football program and its players are behind the community. I’m so proud of them.”

Demetrius Nealy, DeCarlos Wood and Sebastian Ordonez spent two hours Saturday morning cleaning up around Lake Okabena.

“We took it upon ourselves to ask coach if we could get our jerseys to show more recognition to let people know that we are really here,” Wood said. “We really want to do something to help the community, and not just to go school and play football. We make a name for ourselves and show what the Bluejays are really about.”

The trio of college students spent from 10 a.m. until noon on a gorgeous Saturday to give back to the community.

“It’s a Saturday. You want to sleep in and chill and relax and stuff like that,” Wood said.

But the three weren’t sleeping. Instead, they were picking up trash.

“We picked up some trash and took sticks out of rocks and stuff,” Wood said. “We kept everything looking smooth and looking like it was new. We saw dead animals and fish and stuff but we didn’t touch those. We let them know and let somebody else come get them. We did a lot of cleaning and stuff.”

The trio didn’t find anything too unusual, but did have their share of dead animals.

“We found a big bass and a dead bird,” Wood said. “Last year, they told me they found a dead beaver, which surprised me. I was like, ‘They have beavers over here?’ It was crazy.”

The three are freshmen on the Bluejay football team. And all three are from Florida.

“I’m so proud of them,” Linder said. “To have young men who want to do something like that just because, to help out a community they are a part of because of college, but have no ties here other than the college. It says a lot about these young men. It’s just exciting to have kids like that. It’s more than just playing football. It’s more than just getting an education. It’s about fitting in and showing people in the community they are now living in, that they do care.”

While the clean-up efforts were taking place all around Lake Okabena, the three MW students were concentrated on the grade.

“It’s funny because they’re not local and using the term grade around Worthington, they kind of looked at me funny,” said Genny Turner, who helped get the volunteers organized. “Eventually I sent a couple more of the lake association volunteers down in that direction, and so what’s really nice is they kind of walked along one side and really kind of went down and cleaned right along the shoreline, even in the water. At one point, I drove by and I had to chuckle because they said, ‘Man, there’s a lot of dead fish.’ I don’t think they really expected they would find that.”

Campus marketer Amber Luinenburg sent an e-mail to everyone in the Worthington campus, planting the idea into the player’s heads.

“The e-mail said that anyone could come, whether it be athletic teams, so me and the rest of the guys were like, ‘We might as well do that, too,’” Wood said. “We could get our names out there and get more fan support during the games next year and let them know that we are involved in the community like they are and try to get some support for next season.”

At home in Florida, Wood had done other community projects.

“Back home, I was in a group leadership club,” he said. “I learned that from back home, and it’s good to have community. It’s better to give than receive. That’s something I’m used to and like doing.”

And their willingness to help and volunteer is just an example of what Minnesota West as a college — and Linder as a coach — try to instill in their student-athletes.

“I’m proud of them. I tell them that every time I’ve seen them in the last two days,” Linder said. “Even when they picked up their jerseys on Saturday morning, I about started to give them hugs. It just says a lot about their character, and that’s the kind of character we try to instill in all of our young men.”